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From A Kashmiri: ‘Listen To Us, Not The News Anchors Who Portray Us As India Haters’

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By Aamir Wani:

I remember it was in 1998, I woke up amidst wailing and crying on a summer morning. I rushed out of my room only to find neighbours and strangers gathered in the gallery. I climbed the stairs and from the balcony I saw women in our lawn, crying and sobbing. I saw everyone consoling Zoon Maas (Maas is the Kashmiri word for Mother’s sister, out of respect it is often suffixed to an elderly lady’s name) who was sitting there, pale and numb, not talking to anyone. I had never seen her like that and I never saw her again what she used to be like. Right there I understood that something is wrong and in a matter of few seconds I saw a body on a stretcher being carried by a large number of men into our lawn and the first thing that I could see was the shoes, I remembered those shoes, they belonged to Babloo.

Babloo was my neighbour; he lived right opposite our house. They had several cows and sold milk to almost every house in our mohalla. Babloo used to help his parents in selling milk and would come to our house every morning with a can of milk. He would always pour extra milk in the small pot that I held in my hands and he would tell me I will have to hug him for this. It has been almost 20 years, but even today, I remember his face clearly and his shoes. He was no militant and when I asked why he was killed, nobody had an answer. He was simply another victim of “collateral damage”.

Today while I am writing this, I can see his face flashing right in front of my eyes. I am narrating this story not for sympathy but for people to understand that when someone is killed by a bullet, it pierces the heart of not only that person but of a lot of people. Since July 8, 66 people have been killed, almost all of them aged between 16-25, many of them were not even protesting and yet, were killed by the Indian armed forces.

Among those 66 is Reyaz Ahmad who happened to be my neighbour, just like Babloo. He was shot from point blank range resulting in his death. He was not protesting but on his way home from work. Can the Indian patriots (nationalists) tell me why was he shot dead? On August 16, Yasir Salam was shot in his chest in Batmaloo area, there were no protests going on at that time, he was just 16, should Modi ji, who talked about the atrocities being committed by Pakistan in Balochistan, not talk about the atrocities being committed by India in Kashmir?

Should the people of India not introspect why Kashmiris are protesting against India while the Indian Army “protects” Kashmir from Pakistan? You see, it’s not a group of people who is out on the streets, it is the whole Kashmir valley that is protesting, you cannot blame Pakistan for everything. When you kill a young boy without any reason, what do you expect in return from his brother or his friends or any rational person? Not flowers, right? People will protest till their anger is not addressed. Unless the root problem is not resolved. You cannot throw in money and expect the people to be quiet and happy. You think if you give money or a job to Reyaz’s sister, who was going to get married in five days when her brother was killed to be quiet and forget that her brother was shot dead by the armed forces? Give her all the wealth in the world but she will never forget it.

The problem with India under the BJP rule is somewhat different from what it has been before. Now, the Indian government will talk only about POK/Azad Kashmir and Balochistan. Pakistan talking about Kashmir is understood but when India talks about Balochistan, it is nothing but meddling in the internal matters of Pakistan. Even former Union Minister Salman Khursheed said this.

The Indian government is only trying to divert the attention of people by talking about Balochistan. Why don’t you talk to Kashmiris and solve your issues first? Maybe when India is done solving the Kashmir issue, they can approach the international community and discuss Balochistan. Modiji says a Baloch leader has thanked him for talking about Balochistan but I wonder why he turns a blind eye when hundreds and thousands of Kashmris are protesting everyday against the killings and atrrocties committed by the Indian armed forces.

Kashmiris are angry and what angers us more is the denial of crimes committed against us. When I posted on social media about Reyaz’s death, an Indian nationalist commented on the post saying its Reyaz who must have done something to be fired upon from point blank range with 350 pellets inside his stomach. You see, Kashmiris are not against the people of India but the government and its policies. However, people, rather than defending the unjust action of the Indian armed forces, must try to find the truth, at least show a sense of empathy towards Kashmiris.

At the end of the day, we are all humans. As much as I condemn the killing of Reyaz, I condemn the killing of a CRPF personnel who was killed in a militant attack in Srinagar on August 15. This however, will not be accepted by many Indians because we are being portrayed as people who hate India and its people. If people want to know the reality, speak to Kashmiris, leave your nationalism aside, and speak to us and that is how you’ll know we are just as humans as you are. Talk to us, listen from us because it’s us, we Kashmiris who live in Kashmir and not the news anchors who shout on the TV channels portraying us as terrorists and India haters.

I would like to end with a few verses from one of my poems;

“ My beloved, my Kashmir,
A day will come, we will rise,
Our gardens will flourish,
There will be no cries
We will sing songs of love
No more shrouds,
I will decorate you with a bride’s dress
And like a pearl necklace
I will wear you around my neck.”

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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